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Left Coast/Right Coast: Going out of your way to help or, “What’s in it for me?”

As I was driving back to Mill Creek this morning, at the corner of 164th Street SE and Mill Creek Boulevard the car in front of me simply stopped in the middle of the intersection. Within a few seconds, three separate unrelated people rushed into the street behind the car and helped the driver push the disabled car into the gas station at that corner.
Mike Gold is a retired entrepreneur providing his views on the Northwest. Photo credit: Katie Stearns.

Mike Gold writes for the News of Mill Creek on a regular basis. He is a retired entrepreneur and describes himself as a, “relatively recent transplant to the West Coast. I have lived (born and raised) in the Northeastern U.S. So these observations are based upon ‘living the dream’ in the Pacific Northwest.”

As I was driving back to Mill Creek this morning, at the corner of 164th Street SE and Mill Creek Boulevard the car in front of me simply stopped in the middle of the intersection. Within a few seconds, three separate unrelated people rushed into the street behind the car and helped the driver push the disabled car into the gas station at that corner. I started thinking back to what would happen in the Northeast (both in Boston and in New York) in a similar situation.

Boston Drivers First - The first few cars behind the stalled car would immediately get on their car horns and try to “blast” the car out of their way. Clearly, when that did not work, it would be followed by rolled down windows and a stream of “localisms” many of which would cast dispersions on the car owner’s ancestors. Most of these could not be repeated here.

Then after horns and cursing, each driver backed up behind the stalled car would implement their own individualized personalized solution.

Some would simply drive around the car, and it would not matter what color the traffic light was or whether any cars were in the correct lane facing towards the stalled car.

Others would drive up on the sidewalk to get around the car. It is Darwinian at its best. Survival of the “fastest.”

The most creative might drive up behind the bumper of the stalled car, engage it, and simply push it ahead. (By the way, it would not matter whether the stalled car was in park, or had/didn’t have a driver – it would simply be pushed out of the way). I’ve seen on a few occasions, the stalled car pushed into the bushes.

New York Drivers Next: Now this is really special. If the car stalled on any major thoroughfare (I like to use the Cross Bronx Expressway as my textbook example), watch out. The Cross Bronx Expressway connects northern Queens, across the north end of Manhattan which then runs into the George Washington Bridge, to New Jersey. Traffic never stops on this thoroughfare, day or night.

Anytime I’ve driven this road, I’ve seen what can only be described as automobile “hulks” in the break down lane. When I say “hulks” I mean a car shell, minus wheels/tires, often the hood, the engine, all four doors, the trunk lid and the interior.

Sometimes it is “burned up.” Here is a real example of one “owner’s story.” He broke down on the Cross Bronx Expressway. He was bent over the open hood trying to figure out why the car had stopped. Within a couple of minutes of the breakdown, he heard some noise around the side of the car. An enterprising “youth” was busy jacking up the car and starting to remove the left rear wheel/tire. The owner started to say something when this “youth” said, “You get the battery, I’ll take the wheels and tires.”

This is considered “sport” by the locals. Free stuff – all just sitting there for the taking. Call AAA, or the police? Why spoil a “free gift shop” by doing that?

The reason some of the hulks are “burned up” is that the owners, returning to the car with, say, a tow truck, realize that the car will never ever be the same, so they torch it in order to collect the insurance for a replacement vehicle. There have been examples of rival gangs starting gunfights over who gets to “salvage” a particularly nice breakdown.

If the car breaks down on a New York City street, again, the other drivers will act in a very similar way to Boston drivers. Again, if the owner makes the mistake of leaving the car alone, when he returns you can count on finding the car minus wheels/tires, any stereo system with a CD, and depending upon how long the car remained by the side of the street, certainly the battery and some critical engine components such as the A/C compressor, alternator, or perhaps the radiator.

In some of the more industrial sections of Brooklyn, Queens and The Bronx, you can “buy back” all of the missing components from your stripped car at the many local garages – of which many run “chop shop” auto dismantling operations out back. At least by buying back your own parts, you are assured of getting “quality” stuff.

The ultimate insult is that if the driver abandons the car, the city will start putting daily parking fines on the vehicle. Or if the hulk is towed to a police impound yard, you start incurring about $200/day in storage fees. These have to be paid out of the insurance settlement – before the city will allow the owner to register another car.

Why would anyone want to live in such a hellhole? Well, you are living in the middle of (they say) the greatest city in the world. You just have to expect a few inconveniences in exchange for being only a subway ride from Lincoln Center for Performing Arts. Also remember the Mayor of New York City wants all of its residents to give up cars. (I guess if Anthony Weiner gets elected mayor, having sex in the back seat will be a requirement).

As for me, I’ll take Mill Creek any day.

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